By Joseph Golfen
One of the rinks at the Alltel Ice Den wasn’t full of the usual sounds of pee-wee hockey last weekend. There wasn’t the scrape of blades against ice, the smack of sticks cracking against the puck, or the thudding of players careening into each other. Instead, the rink rumbled with the sound of 40 pound rocks gliding across the ice; the cheerful sounds of Curling being played.
The fifth annual Desert Ice Bonspiel brought 23 teams from around the U.S. and Canada to this unlikely climate for a good natured curling championship. Eight of those teams were from Arizona’s own Coyotes Curling Club, a group that meets up every Saturday night at the Ice Den to play the game.
The game itself is relatively simple and is almost like shuffleboard on ice. Except with brooms. One player pushes off from footholds melted into the ice taking the stone with them, before sending it sailing along, hoping to make it land in the center of a bull’s eye. The ice isn’t Zamboni smooth though, so to help the stone make it too its’ goal, two players sweep the ice in front of the stone, helping it to move along.
Two teams play against each other, both sending several color coded stones towards the goal, and whoever gets a stone closes to the center of the targets, collects a point for however many stones made it into the ring. The other team, gets nothing.
“It takes about an hour and a half to learn the game, and after that your hooked for life,” says the clubs president Darryl Horseman, who is also the skip (captain) of Team Molson.
Horseman says interest in the sport has risen since it was readmitted as an Olympic sport in 1998 for the Olympics in Nagano, and demand became so high that by 2003, there were enough players in Arizona to start the league.
“Curling really became the darling of those Olympics,” says Horseman. “ People were skipping, skating and things like that, but were staying up until two or three in the morning watching the curling. And that’s were a lot of people first saw the game and wanted to give it a shot.”
Despite the increased interest in curling in America, the game still belongs to our neighbors to the north.
“There are about 1.5 million curlers in North America,” Horseman says with a laugh. “And about 1.3 of them are in Canada.”
It’s no surprise then that teams from Calgary and Ontario were on the bill for the tournament, but California, Wisconsin and Ohio also made the trip.
While this may seem like a competitive sport, Horseman says it’s a true gentleman’s game; relaxed and friendly.
“Because the game is so gregarious and friendly, the skip from the winning team will always buy the other team a drink, and everyone will just sit around and bullshit about the game,” he says. “There’s never any heckling or things like that, like there is in other games.
He seemed to be right. While everyone looked very intense while the action happened, as soon as the stone stopped rolling everyone broke into a smile and the chatter started up again. Many teams dressed in matching outfits, the most interesting being a team decked out in traditional Scottish checked kilts and socks.
Dan Bossler, a native of Canada and a competitor in the Bonspiel, says he enjoys the team nature of the sport and is glad that curling has an unlikely home in Phoenix.
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“I played in a curling club at my Canadian college and that was about it until a year ago,” says Bossler, a member of the curling team The General Dynamics. “It’s a fun, friendly sport and something that people just really like to play.”
While the club may be expanding, curling seems to still be very much an insider sport. The only spectators were people from teams that were also playing in the tournament, but nobody on the ice seemed to mind. They were just enjoying playing the game.
The overall winner of the event were the Maxie Rink, made up of players from Arizona and Wisconsin, proving that just because you live in the desert, doesn’t mean you can’t play on the ice.
The Coyotes Curling Club is hosting a “Learn to Curl” event on May 4th, which is open to the public and anyone who wants to give this unique sport a try.